Democrat's Victory: Impact on Indo-US Courtship

30 Nov, 2006    ·   2161

Ashok Sharma examines the implications of the Democratic takeover for the future of India-US relations

Breaking a decade long Republican dominance over the Congress, the Democrats have finally come out victorious in the mid term November 2006 election. Democrats have hailed the results and called for bipartisanship even as they investigate Bush administration's policies and decisions. Whatever may be the internal political gimmicks, the external front might gain more glue when initiatives like the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation, are in the offing. It is imperative to look into the impact that this victory for Democrats would cast upon the Indo-US relations in general and the nuclear deal in particular.

The outgoing Congress has finally taken up the Indo-US nuclear deal in the lame duck session and passed it by a thumping majority in the outgoing Senate by a margin of 85-12 votes. The only hurdle remains is that the final version of the legislation, which would emerge after the joint conference of the two houses, do not deviate from the understandings incorporated in the 18 July 2005 joint statement and 2 March 2006 separation plan.

The Indo-US nuclear bill commanded bipartisan support when it was placed in the House International Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, House of Representatives, and even in Senate. Not many initiatives by the Bush Administration have enjoyed this kind of support. But the underlying apprehension which has been shown about Democratic Party's impact on nuclear deal is not without base, as all those who voted against the bill in the Senate were Democrats. These included names like Tim Johnson, Brabara Boxer, Russ Feingold and Tom Harkin. This indicates that the non- proliferation hardliners are alive and well in the party with its recent upswing in the political system.

Traditionally, Indian Americans have been considered pro-Democrat, but in recent years there has been a shift in this trend as rich and affluent Indian Americans have developed leanings for Republicans. They have been also attracted towards Republican because of its conservative stand on family, marriage and other social issues. Republicans have also responded to the issues of Indian Americans and as a result solidified their base among them.

This election is considered to be precursor to the battle for White House in 2008 and so Democrats certainly would not like to antagonize the wealthiest and influential minority group of Indian Americans. The dilemma in recent years has been that most of the Democrats love India but not the nuclear deal; however they are clear that Indo-US relations devoid of nuclear deal would not be acceptable to India. This is true that Republicans in last few years have proved to be better friends of India and during Bush regime, Indo-US relations have achieved remarkable progress in strategic, economic and political field. But, it is not long ago, that Democrats were considered as India's best friends and most of the Indian Americans supported the Democrats and most of the vocal members of India Caucus were from Democratic party be it Gary Ackerman, Frank Pallone, Joseph Biden or Steven Solarz. Moreover, it was during Clinton era, that initiatives were taken to transform Indo-US relations, especially after Kargil war and India's nuclear test.

Noticeable feature of the nuclear bill in the Senate, was that most of those, who wanted to introduce killer amendments and stymied the bill were from states with large Indian American bases. However, the Democratic leadership - Joseph Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, all three possible contenders for the Presidential race in 2008, supported the deal. In the same manner, Bill Frist, John McCain and others from Republican Party who are in race for White House in 2008 also supported the nuclear bill in the Senate.

Also, there is energy and environment constituency, which has been favouring the deal, because it could result in India reducing its dependency on excessive hydrocarbons and fossil fuels, while at the same time help contain global warming. Above all, there is a strong business interest in the United States, that can not ignore $100 billion in foreign direct investment, which would also create around 270,000 American jobs in high technology engineering and manufacturing over next decade. US-India Business Council has thus been extensively lobbying for the nuclear deal and for Indo-US relations.

Also, the victory of Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, supporter of Indo-US ties (she is going to be first female speaker of House) and Sherrod Brown, founder member of India Caucus in the US Congress, who has been promoted in this election as a Senator is a positive development as far as Democratic approach towards Indo-US relations is considered. Pelosi as the ranking member of the foreign operations subcommittee and as one of most active members of the House Appropriations Committee helped India Caucus members to defeat the Dan Burton Amendment, which was to cut the annual US aid to India.

Finally, to make Indo-US nuclear cooperation a living reality, negotiations and lobbying from Indian side on Capitol Hill will have to be continued. In the long run, the Indo-US relations is not going to be affected as both Democrats and Republicans are firmly committed to stronger and better ties with India.